Tea — The Affordable Indulgence

Living the tea life can get a bit costly. (Have you shopped for fine teas lately?) On top of that, the economy is tough. Lots of people have either had their work hours (and pay) scaled back or were let go altogether. Time to economize and trim something from your budget. But what? If you’re thinking of saving money by cutting back on your purchase of fine teas, perhaps a bit or rethinking is due. Tea is truly the affordable indulgence.


Let’s do the math with this example:

  • A box of 80 quality tea bagsaverages $7 at various retailers.
  • Each tea bag costs about 9¢.
  • Each tea bag brews up one tasty eight-ounce cupful and a second so-so eight-ounce cupful (if you care to try a second infusion, which I usually do).
  • That adds up to 60 eight-ounce cupfuls per tin.
  • Each cupful costs 4¢ for the tea (not the water, energy to heat it, cream, sweetener, labor to wash the cup, etc.).
  • There are 16 eight-ounce cups in a gallon.
  • The cost for tea to brew a gallon is therefore a mere 70 cents. (If only a gallon gas cost that little…or a gallon of milk.)

See what I mean? Loose teas are comparably priced, and often less, since there is no cost for bagging the tea.

A lot of effort goes into making it possible for all of us to live the tea life. Considering the scenario above though, the cost to us starts to sound more reasonable. Add in the demand for tea worldwide, the labor needed for harvesting and processing, and the costs to package and bring tea to market – all items that add to the price. Now, tea is starting to sound like a downright bargain.

Harvesting enough tea leaves to make even a potful takes a lot of effort. The tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) grows large, but is usually kept pruned to about two to three feet across and several feet high, allowing for easier picking of the leaves. Only the tender young leaves at the branch tips are plucked. (As you look out across a tea field that rolls up and down across the hills of Assam, Darjeeling, Sri Lanka, or China, if you see a bright green, almost yellow, the tea hasn’t been harvested yet.) Workers move through the tea fields and pick only those leaves, a slow process.

Processing tea leaves can be even more laborious, often involving several stages, such as:

  • Drying, or withering, where freshly harvested tea leaves are spread out onto tables or trays and left to dry, removing moisture and softening the leaves for rolling.
  • Rolling, where machines break tea leaf cells, exposing juices and enzymes to the air and enhancing oxidation.
  • Oxidating, or fermenting, begins during rolling, where rolled leaves are spread out in a temperature and humidity controlled room and their color deepens from green to reddish-brown and then black.
  • Firing where tea leaves are fired (or dried) by slowly heating them in a drying chamber, thus stopping oxidation so that the leaves can be prepared for storage.
  • Flavoring and/or aromatizing, such as adding oil of bergamot (for Earl Grey tea).
  • Sorting into piece sizes (whole, broken, fannings, dust).

As I said earlier, tea is pretty labor-intensive. But that’s not all that goes into the cost. The tea has to get from these tea growers and processors to store shelves (or online vendors). That adds in the cost of packaging and transportation. Of course, things like sales tax and/or shipping costs are also a factor.

Don’t let all of this keep you from adding a bit of tea to your life, especially as a way of soothing your worry over these tough economic times. Compared to the cost of many things these days, tea is still an affordable indulgence. So, go ahead – enjoy living the tea life!

Check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, for more great writing!

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